Dream double for Saracens as they secure English Premiership
Hold off Exeter Chiefs to add domestic glory to their Champions Cup success
Saracens celebrate their English Premiership success. Photograph: Getty
Saracens 28 Exeter Chiefs 20
Saracens became the first English club for 12 years to win a domestic and European double as they resisted a thrilling Exeter fightback to retain the Aviva Premiership title.
Not since Wasps in 2004 had the feat been achieved, but Saracens were in no mood to waste their opportunity before a 76,000 crowd in glorious Twickenham sunshine as they followed up victory over Champions Cup final opponents Racing 92 by defeating the Chiefs 28-20.
First time finalists Exeter rallied magnificently after the break, claiming tries by substitute hooker Jack Yeandle and outstanding wing Jack Nowell, with skipper Gareth Steenson landing two conversions and two penalties.
And it eventually took Saracens full-back Alex Goode’s 76th-minute touchdown to calm the nerves, which finally finished Exeter and concluded a spectacular season.
Both teams were unchanged following last weekend’s play-offs, although three switches on the Exeter bench saw centre Michele Campagnaro, lock Damian Welch and back-row forward Kai Horstmann called up, while England prop Mako Vunpola made his 100th first team eppearance for Saracens.
Just two weeks after they were crowned European champions in Lyon — and then demolished Premiership play-off opponents Leicester seven days later — Saracens had no intention of switching off.
Farrell kicked two penalties during the opening 10 minutes, with Exeter making little response apart from their England wing Nowell’s occasional break into opposition territory.
As against Racing 92 when Europe’s premier prize was at stake earlier this month, Saracens were keen to exert a vice-like grip on their opponents, and there was no immediate suggestion of Exeter responding.
Steenson landed a 23rd-minute penalty for the Chiefs, but there was little to suggest that Exeter could find any meaningful way back into the contest, and Saracens then stepped up a gear by scoring 17 points in 11 minutes.
Farrell completed his penalty hat-trick — he had already become the record points scorer in Premiership finals — before two quickfire tries confirmed his team’s dominance.
Saracens hooker Schalk Brits made a brilliant outside break that left the Exeter defence in tatters, before he found Wyles in support, and Taylor capitalised on a deft Farrell kick to cross unopposed.
Farrell’s conversion made it 16-3, but there was worse to come for Exeter as they conceded a soft try through weak defensive work when full-back Phil Dollman and centre Henry Slade missed tackles and allowed Wyles an easy run-in.
Exeter head coach Rob Baxter’s subdued expression in the stands said it all as Farrell added the conversion, before a second Steenson penalty reuced the arrears to 23-6, but the Chiefs were pretty much down and out.
Exeter showed much more purpose and penetration immediately after the restart, and they were undoubtedly helped by a an entire front-row substitution as Yeandle, Alec Hepburn and Tomas Francis joined the action, which helped give them much-needed impetus.
In terms of territory, it was Exeter’s best spell of the game, and they were rewarded after Steenson sacrificed a kick at goal to go for the corner, which resulted in an attacking lineout and ended with Yeandle powering over.
Steenson added the conversion, which cut the gap to 10 points and provided Saracens with a gentle reminder that they needed to stay on top of things and rediscover their first-half supremacy.
Saracens, without rediscovering their first-half dominance, looked to have enough in the tank to close out the game and confirm their place at the head of English rugby’s top table for a second successive season, but Exeter rallied again through a Nowell touchdown that was brilliantly delivered by the Chiefs’ backs.
Steenson’s conversion set up a grandstand finale, with just three points between the teams, before Premiership player of the season Goode came up trumps with a late touchdown, and Saracens could finally relax.